Hong Kong Travel Guide
Hong Kong, officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, is one of the Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China. Consisting of a peninsula and 236 islands on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, Hong Kong has developed into one of the world's top financial centres. It has a highly developed capitalist economy, and has a "high degree of autonomy" in all areas except foreign affairs and defence. Renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour, its identity as a cosmopolitan centre where east meets west is reflected in its cuisine, cinema, music and traditions.
Starting out as a fishing village on Hong Kong Island in the late Paleolithic and early Neolithic period, Hong Kong progressed through being a salt production site into a trading and military port of strategic importance. It became a colony of the British Empire after the First Opium War (1839–1842), and then in 1898 expanded onto the mainland and northern islands. It was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, when the population halved. The British resumed control, and the population gradually recovered as corporations moved there from China when the Communist Party of China became the ruling political party after the Chinese Civil War. Textile and manufacturing industries grew, then toward the end of the 20th century the economy shifted to mainly services-based, as the financial and banking sectors became increasingly dominant.
Hong Kong was reclassified as a British dependent territory in 1983 until its sovereignty was transferred to the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1997. The city's population is 95% Chinese and 5% from other ethnic groups. At 1,104 km2 (426 sq mi) and a population of 7 million people, Hong Kong is the 179th largest habited territory in the world. It is also one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The land area consists primarily of Hong Kong Island, Lantau Island, Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories as well as some 260 other islands.
The Hong Kong dollar is the 9th most traded currency in the world. Under the principle of "one country, two systems", the judiciary system in Hong Kong maintains the English Common law framework rather than legal system of China. The political system takes place in a structure dominated by its constitutional documents, the Basic Law of Hong Kong, its own legislature, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong as the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Regardless of the change in sovereignty, Hong Kong's immigration system remained largely unchanged from its British predecessor model. Residents from mainland China do not have the right of abode in Hong Kong, nor can they enter the territory freely, both before and after 1997. Another distinction from mainland China is the left-hand traffic rule. The defence of Hong Kong is handled by military forces sent by the Central Government to prevent outside interference of its internal affairs.
Hong Kong began as a coastal island. While pockets of settlements had taken place in the region with archaeological findings dating back thousands of years, regularly written records were not made until the engagement of Imperial China and the British Colony in the territory. Starting out as a fishing village, salt production site and trading ground, it would evolve into a military port of strategic importance and eventually an international financial centre that enjoys the world's 6th highest GDP (PPP) per capita, supporting 33% of the foreign capital flows into China.
Human settlement in the area now known as Hong Kong dates back to the late Paleolithic and early Neolithic era, but the name Hong Kong did not appear on written record until the Treaty of Nanking of 1842. The area's earliest recorded European visitor was Jorge Álvares, a Portuguese explorer who arrived in 1513.
In 1839 the refusal by Qing Dynasty authorities to import opium resulted in the First Opium War between China and Britain. Hong Kong Island became occupied by British forces in 1841, and was formally ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Nanking at the end of the war. The British established a Crown Colony with the founding of Victoria City the following year. In 1860, after China's defeat in the Second Opium War, Kowloon Peninsula south of Boundary Street and Stonecutter's Island were ceded to Britain under the Convention of Peking. In 1898 Britain obtained a 99-year lease of Lantau Island and the adjacent northern lands, which became known as the New Territories. Hong Kong's territory has remained unchanged to the present.
During the first half of the 20th century, Hong Kong was a free port, serving as an entrepôt of the British Empire. The British introduced an education system based on their own model, while the local Chinese population had little contact with the European community of wealthy tai-pans settled near Victoria Peak.
In conjunction with its military campaign in the Second World War, the Empire of Japan invaded Hong Kong on 8 December 1941. The Battle of Hong Kong ended with British and Canadian defenders surrendering control of the colony to Japan on 25 December. During the Japanese occupation, civilians suffered widespread food shortages, rationing, and hyper-inflation due to forced exchange of currency for military notes. Hong Kong lost more than half of its population in the period between the invasion and Japan's surrender in 1945, when the United Kingdom resumed control of the colony.
Hong Kong's population recovered quickly as a wave of migrants from China arrived for refuge from the ongoing Chinese Civil War. When the People's Republic of China was proclaimed in 1949, more migrants fled to Hong Kong in fear of persecution by the Communist Party. Many corporations in Shanghai and Guangzhou also shifted their operations to Hong Kong.
As textile and manufacturing industries grew with the help of population growth and low cost of labour, Hong Kong rapidly industrialised, with its economy becoming driven by exports, and living standards rising steadily. The construction of Shek Kip Mei Estate in 1953 marked the beginning of the public housing estate program, designed to cope with the huge influx of immigrants. Trade in Hong Kong accelerated even further when Shenzhen, immediately north of Hong Kong, became a Special Economic Zone of the PRC, and established Hong Kong as the main source of foreign investment to China. With the development of the manufacturing industry in southern China beginning in the early 1980s, Hong Kong's competitiveness in manufacturing declined and its economy began shifting toward a reliance on the service industry, which enjoyed high rates of growth in the 1980s and 1990s, and absorbed workers released from the manufacturing industry.
With the lease of the New Territories due to expire within two decades, the governments of Britain and China discussed the issue of Hong Kong's sovereignty in the 1980s. In 1984 the two countries signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, agreeing to transfer sovereignty to the People's Republic of China in 1997, and stipulating that Hong Kong would be governed as a special administrative region, retaining its laws and a high degree of autonomy for at least fifty years after the transfer. The Hong Kong Basic Law, which would serve as the constitutional document after the transfer, was ratified in 1990, and the transfer of sovereignty occurred at midnight on 1 July 1997, marked by a handover ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Hong Kong's economy was affected by the Asian financial crisis of 1997 that hit many East Asian markets, and the H5N1 avian influenza also surfaced that year. After a gradual recovery, Hong Kong suffered again due to an outbreak of SARS in 2003. Today, Hong Kong continues to serve as an important global financial centre, but faces uncertainty over its future role with a growing mainland China economy, and its relationship with the PRC government in areas such as democratic reform and universal suffrage.
Hong Kong is one of the world's leading financial centres. Its highly developed capitalist economy has been ranked the freest in the world by the Index of Economic Freedom for 15 consecutive years. It is an important centre for international finance and trade, with one of the greatest concentration of corporate headquarters in the Asia-Pacific region, and is known as one of the Four Asian Tigers for its high growth rates and rapid industrialisation between the 1960s and 1990s. In addition, Hong Kong's gross domestic product, between 1961 and 1997, has grown 180 times larger than the former while per capita GDP rose by 87 times. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is the sixth largest in the world, with a market capitalisation of US$2.97 trillion as of October 2007, and the second highest value of initial public offerings, after London. The currency used in Hong Kong is the Hong Kong dollar, which has been pegged to the U.S. dollar since 1983.
The Government of Hong Kong plays a passive role in the financial industry, mostly leaving the direction of the economy to market forces and the private sector. Under the official policy of positive non-interventionism, Hong Kong is often cited as an example of laissez-faire capitalism. Following the Second World War, Hong Kong industrialised rapidly as a manufacturing centre driven by exports, and then underwent a rapid transition to a service-based economy in the 1980s. Hong Kong matured to become a financial centre in the 1990s, but was greatly affected by the Asian financial crisis in 1998, and again in 2003 by the SARS outbreak. A revival of external and domestic demand has led to a strong recovery, as cost decreases strengthened the competitiveness of Hong Kong exports and a long deflationary period ended.
The territory has little arable land and few natural resources, so it must import most of its food and raw materials. Hong Kong is the world's eleventh largest trading entity, with the total value of imports and exports exceeding its gross domestic product. Much of Hong Kong's exports consist of re-exports, which are products made outside of the territory, especially in mainland China, and distributed via Hong Kong. Even before the transfer of sovereignty, Hong Kong had established extensive trade and investment ties with the mainland, and now enables it to serve as a point of entry for investment flowing into the mainland. At the end of 2007, there were 3.46 million people employed full-time, with the unemployment rate averaging 4.1%, the fourth straight year of decline. Hong Kong's economy is dominated by the service sector, which accounts for over 90% of its GDP, while industry now constitutes just 9%. Inflation was at 2% in 2007, and Hong Kong's largest export markets are mainland China, the United States, and Japan.
As of 2009, Hong Kong is the fifth most expensive city for expatriates, behind Tokyo, Osaka, Moscow, and Geneva. In 2008, Hong Kong was ranked sixth, and in 2007, it was ranked fifth. In 2009, Hong Kong was ranked third in the Ease of Doing Business Index.
The territory's population reached more than 7 million in 2007. Hong Kong has a fertility rate of 0.95 children per woman, one of the lowest in the world and far below the 2.1 children per woman required to sustain the current population. However, the population in Hong Kong continues to grow due to the influx of immigrants from mainland China, approximating 45,000 per year – there exists a daily quota of 150 people from Mainland China with family ties in Hong Kong are granted a 'one way permit'. According to a United Nation report, Life expectancy in Hong Kong is 81.8 years as of 2006, the second highest in the world.
About 95% of the people of Hong Kong are of Han ethnicity, the majority of whom are Cantonese, Hakka and Chiu Chow. The remaining 5% of the population is composed of non-ethnic Chinese forming a highly visible group despite their smaller numbers. In addition, there are in excess of 300,000 foreign domestic helpers from Indonesia and the Philippines, according to official figures. There is a South Asian population of Punjabis, Sindhis, Pakistanis and Nepalese. Some Vietnamese refugees have become permanent residents of Hong Kong. There are also a number of Europeans (mostly British), Americans, Australians, Canadians, Japanese, and Koreans working in the city's commercial and financial sector.
Hong Kong's de facto official language is Cantonese, a Chinese language originating from Guangdong Province to the north of Hong Kong. English is also an official language, and according to a 1996 by-census is spoken by 3.1% of the population as an everyday language and by 34.9% of the population as a second language. Signs displaying both Chinese and English are common throughout the territory. Since the 1997 handover, an increase in immigrants from mainland China and greater integration with the mainland economy have brought an increasing number of Mandarin speakers to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of freedom, guaranteed by the Basic Law. 90% of Hong Kong's population practises a mix of local religions, most prominently Buddhism (mainly Chinese Mahayana), Confucianism, and Taoism. A Christian community of around 600,000 exists, forming about 8% of the total population, and is nearly equally divided between Catholics and Protestants, although other, smaller Christian communities exist including the Latter-Day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses. There are also Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Bahá'í communities. Religious freedom after the 1997 handover is guaranteed under the Basic Law. The practice of Falun Gong is tolerated; the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches each freely appointing its own bishops, unlike in mainland China.
Hong Kong's education system roughly follows the system in England, although at the higher education levels, both English and American systems exist. The government maintains a medium of instruction is Chinese (Cantonese), written Chinese and English. In secondary schools the policy now emphasises 'biliterate and trilingual' proficiency, thus Mandarin language education has been increasing. The Programme for International Student Assessment, has ranked Hong Kong's education system as the second best in the world.
Hong Kong's public schools are operated by the Education Bureau. The system features a non-compulsory three-year kindergarten, followed by a compulsory six-year primary education, a three-year junior secondary education, a non-compulsory two-year senior secondary education leading to the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examinations, and a two-year matriculation course leading to the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examinations. However, starting from the year of 2006 of Form 1, all students receive 3 years of compulsory junior and 3 years compulsory senior secondary education. Most comprehensive schools in Hong Kong fall under three categories: the rarer public schools; the more common subsidised schools, including government aids and grant schools; and private schools, often run by Christian organisations and having admissions based on academic merit rather than on financial resources. Outside this system are the schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme and private international schools.
There are nine public universities in Hong Kong, and a number of private higher institutions, offering various bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees, other higher diplomas and associate degree courses. The University of Hong Kong, the oldest institution of tertiary education in the territory, was referred by Quacquarelli Symonds as a "world-class comprehensive research university" and was ranked 24th on the 2009 THES - QS World University Rankings, making it 1st in Asia. The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology and Chinese University of Hong Kong are ranked 35 and 46 respectively, making them ranked 2nd and 4th respectively in Asia.
Hong Kong is frequently described as a place where "East meets West", reflecting the culture's mix of the territory's Chinese roots with the culture brought to it during its time as a British colony. One of the more noticeable contradictions is Hong Kong's balancing of a modernised way of life with traditional Chinese practices. Concepts like feng shui are taken very seriously, with expensive construction projects often hiring expert consultants, and are often believed to make or break a business. Other objects like Ba gua mirrors are still regularly used to deflect evil spirits, and buildings often lack any floor number that has a 4 in it, due to its similarity to the word for "die" in the Chinese language. The fusion of east and west also characterises Hong Kong's cuisine, where dim sum, hot pot and fast food restaurants coexist with haute cuisine.
Hong Kong is a recognised global centre of trade, and calls itself an 'entertainment hub'. Its martial arts film genre gained a high level of popularity in the late 1960s and 1970s. Several Hollywood performers and martial artists have originated from Hong Kong cinema, notably Bruce Lee, Chow Yun-Fat, Jackie Chan, and Yuen Woo-ping. A number of Hong Kong film-makers have also achieved widespread fame in Hollywood, such as John Woo, Wong Kar-wai and Stephen Chow. Homegrown films such as Chungking Express, Infernal Affairs, Shaolin Soccer, Rumble in the Bronx, and In the Mood for Love have gained international recognition. Hong Kong is the centre for Cantopop music, which draws its influence from other forms of Chinese music and Western genres, and has a multinational fanbase.
The Hong Kong government supports cultural institutions such as the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Also, the government's Leisure and Cultural Services Department subsidises and sponsors international performers brought to Hong Kong. Many international cultural activities are organised by the government, consulates, and privately.
Hong Kong has two licensed terrestrial broadcasters – ATV and TVB. There are three local and a number of foreign suppliers of cable and satellite services. The production of Hong Kong's soap dramas, comedy series and variety shows reach audiences throughout the Chinese-speaking world. Magazine and newspaper publishers in Hong Kong distribute and print in both Chinese and English, with a focus on sensationalism and celebrity gossip. The media is relatively free from official interference compared to mainland China, although the Far Eastern Economic Review points to signs of self-censorship by journals whose owners have close ties to or business interests in the PRC, but state that even Western media outlets are not immune to growing Chinese economic power.
Hong Kong offers wide recreational and competitive sport opportunities despite its limited land area. Internationally, Hong Kong sends delegates to international competition, namely the Olympic Games, and Asian Games, and played host to the equestrian events during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. There are major multipurpose venues like Hong Kong Coliseum and MacPherson Stadium. Hong Kong's steep terrain makes it ideal for hiking, with expansive views over the territory, and its rugged coastline provides many beaches for swimming.
According to Emporis, there are 7,650 skyscrapers in Hong Kong, putting the city at the top of world rankings. The high density and tall skyline of Hong Kong's urban area is due to a lack of available sprawl space, with the average distance from the harbour front to the steep hills of Hong Kong Island at 1.3 km (0.8 mi), much of it reclaimed land. This lack of space causing demand for dense, high-rise offices and housing, has resulted in 36 of the world's 100 tallest residential buildings being in Hong Kong, and more people living or working above the 14th floor than anywhere else on Earth, making it the world's most vertical city.
As a result of the lack of space and demand for construction, few older buildings remain, and the city is instead becoming a centre for modern architecture. The International Commerce Centre (ICC), at 484 m (1,590 ft) high, is the tallest building in Hong Kong and also the third tallest in the world. The tallest building prior to the ICC is Two International Finance Centre, at 415 m (1,360 ft) high. Other recognisable skyline features include the HSBC Headquarters Building, the triangular Central Plaza with its pyramid-shaped spire, The Center with its night-time multi-coloured neon light show, and I. M. Pei's Bank of China Tower with its sharp, angular façade. According to the Emporis website, the city skyline has the biggest visual impact of all world cities. Notable remaining historical assets include the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower, the Central Police Station, and the remains of Kowloon Walled City.
There are many development plans in place, including the construction of new government buildings, waterfront redevelopment in Central, and a series of projects in West Kowloon. More high-rise development is set to take place on the other side of Victoria Harbour in Kowloon, as the 1998 closure of the nearby Kai Tak Airport lifted strict height restrictions.
The majority of Hong Kong's population are Han Chinese (95%), mostly of Cantonese ancestry, though there are also sizeable numbers of other Chinese groups such as Teochews, Shanghainese and Hakkas. A significant number of Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese live here too, and many have families that have lived in Hong Kong for several generations. The largest groups of recent, non-Chinese, immigrants are Filipinos, Indonesians and Thais, of which most are employed as domestic help.
There are four distinct seasons in Hong Kong. Hong Kong can be a little chilly in the winter (10°C) and hot and humid in the summer (33°C). The best times of year to visit are thus, spring (March-May), when the average temperature is around 25°C and autumn (September-December). Christmas in Hong Kong can be a delight with a fair chance of mild sunny weather that will appeal to those coming from colder northern climates. Hotels experience peak occupancy in the months of April and October. Typhoons usually occur between June and September and can bring a halt to local business activities for a day or less. The weather in winter is usually caused by the winter monsoon which brings dry cold winds from the north. In winter the air can be cold but the sun can still burn. Expect winter temperatures to rise to 22°C on sunny days and fall to under 10°C at night. Chinese New Year is notorious for cold wet weather and, since many businesses close, non-Chinese tourists will not see Hong Kong at its best. Should you find yourself in Hong Kong at Chinese New Year, you can make the best of the weather by going hiking if it is dry.
|Weather data for Hong Kong|
|Average high °C (°F)||18.6
|Average low °C (°F)||14.1
|Precipitation mm (inches)||24
- Chinese (Lunar) New Year
Although this may seem like an ideal time to go to Hong Kong, many shops and restaurants close down during the Chinese New Year. However, unlike Christmas in Europe where you can hardly find shops open on this big day, you can still get food and daily products easily during the Lunar New Year period. The week or two leading up to the Chinese New Year as well as the period just after the third day up to the fifteenth day are good times to soak up the festive mood and listen to Chinese New Year songs being played in the shops.
- Spring Lantern Festival
If you go to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, you will be able to experience this traditional Chinese festival. A number of beautiful lanterns can be found in the park at this time.
- Ching Ming Festival
This festival in Spring is also known as grave sweeping day. To show respect to the deceased, family members go to the grave of their ancestors to sweep away leaves and remove weeds around the grave area. Paper offerings are also burned, such as fake money.
- Cheung Chau Bun Festival
This is takes place on the tiny island of Cheung Chau. In the past the festival has involved competitions with people climbing bun towers to snatch buns. After the unfortunate collapse of a bun tower in 1978, due to an overload of people, the competition was abandoned. It was resumed again in 2005 with better safety measures.
- Tuen Ng Festival
This is a festival in memory of a national hero from the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. Dragon boat races are typically held during this festival and glutinous rice dumplings, usually with pork fillings, are eaten by many.
- Hungry Ghost Festival
This festival runs throughout the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. It is believed that the gates of hell open during this period and hungry ghosts are allowed to roam freely into our world. Though not a public holiday, this is the time where one can see many people perform various rites to appease the wandering ghosts, such as offering food and burning joss paper. One can also see traditional performances such as Chinese opera which are held to appease these ghosts.
- Mid Autumn Festival / Moon Festival
This festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. Moon cakes which contain lotus seed paste and duck egg yolks are a popular delicacy. Many Western people will find the traditional mooncake hard to appreciate, so you might like to try the ice-cream version as well. The festival is also known as the lantern festival and various parts of Hong Kong will be festooned with decorative lanterns which set the night scene ablaze with colour.
- Chung Yeung Festival
Is a day also known as Autumn Remembrance, which is similar to Ching Ming in spring, where families visit the graves of their ancestors to perform cleansing rites and pay their respects. As the weather cools down during this part of the year, hiking is a good activity to do during this holiday.
Halloween has grown rapidly in popularity and many people dress up to party till late. Trick or treat is not common but most restaurants and shopping centres are decorated and have special programmes. For young adults and teenagers, Ocean Park is the place to be for Halloween fun. It is not a public holiday.
Christmas is celebrated Hong Kong style. The city is adorned using traditional Western Christmas decorations. Many shopping centres, such as Pacific Place, offer ample opportunities for children to meet Santa. Most shops and restaurants remain open throughout Christmas. You should expect large crowds out shopping for the Christmas sales.
- New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve in Hong Kong is something to check out if you are seeking a carnival experience. Hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets to celebrate the New Year is truly an unforgettable time. There are all-night services on the MTR, night-buses, and of course, many taxis. Fireworks go off on the harbour front, which a lot of people attend to watch on both sides of the harbour: Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon side) and Central (Hong Kong Island). The young adults and older adults decide to party with the rest of Hong Kong at the hot-spots such as Causeway Bay, Lan Kwai Fong and Tsim Sha Tsui. Many people dress up and attend private parties and others flock to the streets to enjoy the atmosphere. Police patrol around popular areas to make sure the city is a safe party-zone. Hong Kong people are not great drinkers and most of them stay dry for the night. Drinking alcohol on the street is uncommon. So visitors who drink should moderate their behaviour or risk being screened out by the police as the only drunks in the crowd.
Hong Kong is much more than one city and can be divided into four geographic areas, each with its own unique character that merits separate exploration.
Hong Kong Islandthe site of the original British settlement. The northern part of the Island is densely populated with people and structures. Because of land scarcity, most of Hong Kong's highest skyscrapers can be found here, including its famous skyline along the northern coastline. Hong Kong's financial centre, shopping and nightlife districts and government offices are also located on the northern section of island. The southern section has a less populated, more leisurely feel, with beautiful beaches and luxury residential complexes housing the territory's richest. Overall, Hong Kong Island is more Westernised and much wealthier than the other areas of Hong Kong.
the peninsula jutting south towards Hong Kong Island from the Asian continent. It is the most populous area in Hong Kong and at one time it was the most densely populated place in the world. Today, it offers a chaotic mix of malls, street markets and residential tenements. Nathan Road runs up the spine of Kowloon, a street once famously known as the Miracle Mile for its dense highrises, shopping, hotels, wall-to-wall people and an explosion of neon lights. Kowloon literally means nine dragons and refers to the eight hills that were once visible before the skyscrapers took the view away. Legend has it that the ninth dragon was the boy emperor who counted the hills.
- New Territories
named by British officials when leased from the Chinese government in 1898, the New Territories contain a curious mix of small farms, villages, industrial installations, mountainous country parks and towns that have populations the size of some cities. Most of the New Territories is rural and provides a surprising green alternative to an over-urbanised Hong Kong.
- Outlying Islands
the 234 other islands in the territory ranging from significant population centres to rocks poking out of the sea. Hong Kong International airport was located on reclaimed land here.
the largest of the Outlying Islands, twice the size of Hong Kong Island
Hong Kong maintains a separate and independent immigration system from that of mainland China. This means that unlike the mainland, most Western and Asian visitors do not need to obtain visas in advance. However, it also means that a visa is required to enter mainland China from Hong Kong. Macau residents may enter using their identity card while other PRC passport holders and residents of Taiwan holding ROC passports need to apply for a separate visit permit. Detailed visa requirements are available from the Immigration Department . Those who require visas should apply for one at a Chinese embassy, but note that the Hong Kong visa has to be applied for separately from the mainland Chinese one. Anyone arriving at Hong Kong International Airport who requires an onward visa for mainland China, will find a kiosk in the foyer in the arrivals area that issues them. A photograph will be required and the staff will be happy to accommodate you.Note that leaving the mainland for Hong Kong is considered to be leaving China, so you should apply for a multiple entry visa if you wish to enter Hong Kong, then re-enter mainland China.
Hong Kong International Airport (IATA: HKG; ICAO: VHHH) which is also known as Chek Lap Kok (named after the small island it was built over), is the main port for visitors to Hong Kong by air. Designed by architect Sir Norman Foster, this modern and efficient building opened in July 1998 and has since been named "World's Best Airport" by Skytrax five times annually.
There are many direct flights to Hong Kong from every continent in the world. Most major cities in Oceania, Europe and North America are all served with at least one daily flight, and flights between Hong Kong and other major Asian cities are also frequent. For destinations within China, it is often cheaper to fly from Shenzhen than from Hong Kong, as flights between the mainland and Hong Kong are considered to be international flights and priced accordingly. For elsewhere in Asia, consider transiting through Macau. Many discount airlines serve Macau because it has lower landing fees than Hong Kong. There are also flights between Hong Kong and several mid-Pacific islands and nations.
Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary airline Dragonair are Hong Kong's main carriers, with Hong Kong Express providing some welcomed competition.
There are two terminals, creatively called T1 and T2. Signs on approach to the airport by car/taxi list the terminals and check-in zones. The station is located between the two terminals, so follow the signs when you exit the station. Once checked-in, you can clear security at either terminal with an underground shuttle bus outside the security area. There are probably more shopping opportunities before security at T2, but its shops close earlier. There are lots of shopping opportunities after security as well. Travellers will find an efficient post office in the airport, providing boxes, wrapping material, scissors and tape. It might be more economical to send your excess luggage via surface mail than paying fees to the airline.
There is a manned left luggage facility in the arrival hall, perfect for securely storing your luggage at the airport, for around $55-$80 per day (depending on duration). Opened 6:00AM to 1:00AM.
Overall, services at Chek Lap Kok are generally better, or on par, with those at other major international airports.
The Airport Express is a fast and environmentally friendly form of passenger transport to and from the airport to Tsing Yi, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The clean, comfortable and efficient train departs every 12 minutes and takes approximately 23 minutes to reach Hong Kong station. All stations have staff to help you get heavy bags on and off of the train; there is no need to tip them. Each way costs $60-$100, or a round trip for $110-$180, depending on the distance travelled. If you buy your ticket from a machine you will have to pay the standard fare, however, if you travel with other people you can get a discount from the staff at the counter. If in doubt, ask the staff for advice before you hand over your money. After reaching your station, free shuttle buses connect to major hotels in Kowloon and Hong Kong island, or you can continue onward by MTR or taxi. Around half of the trip will be underground and some of the "above-ground" travel is through "covered" tracks.
The Airport Express Tourist Transport Pass gives you an Octopus card (see Get around) which is good for three days of unlimited MTR travel, plus one ride on the Airport Express (for $220) or two (for $300). In effect, you're paying $70 for three days on the MTR, which is a fair bit of travel but might be worth it if you're planning to visit Lantau Island or the New Territories. You can return the card after use to get back $50 deposit, or keep it for your next trip — any leftover value will remain valid for three years. You can add money to the card, which you can use for payment for busses, trams and most ferries.
If you wish for a leisurely scenic ride from the airport, you should consider taking a bus. Airport buses to the city are called CityFlyer and will offer lush views of Lantau Island and traverse over the Tsing Ma Bridge, the seventh longest suspension bridge in the world.
Taking a CityFlyer bus to the airport is cheaper, but generally slower than the train. However, if the bus stops very near your hotel, this may involve less walking and less lugging than the Airport Express. For example, the A21 ($33) bus will take you down Nathan Road, Kowloon's main artery, stopping outside many hotels and hostels. Lines A10, A11 and A12 goes to Hong Kong Island ($48, $40 and $45 respectively).
Many locals save money by taking bus S1 from the airport to the Tung Chung MTR station ($3.50) and connect to the ordinary MTR for a cheaper ride to the city (Kowloon $17, Hong Kong $23). This interchange will involve about ten minutes walking. Free Airport Express shuttle buses can then connect you from Kowloon and Hong Kong MTR stations to various hotels in each area.
If you are on a budget, take an "E" route bus rather than the "A" routes bus, which takes about 20 minutes longer (50-60 min instead of 35-40 min) and are about half the price (e.g. $21 for the E11 from Central). These 'External' buses are geared more for airport and airline workers, so they make several detours around Tung Chung and corporate offices. They will also give a nice tour around the airport island. However, E21 (Kowloon KCR Station to Airport) takes about an hour to the airport comparing to A21 (as E21 tour around not only airport island but Kowloon peninsula).For a full listing of buses available at HKIA refer to the Hong Kong airport website.
A taxi from the airport to the city (Central/Mid-levels) will cost you around $350 depending on your exact destination. If you have three or more people travelling together, it is generally cheaper to travel by taxi than by Airport Express, but you may have a problem fitting so many bags into the taxi. Use a red taxi for destinations to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, Green taxis are restricted to the New Territories and blue taxis are for Lantau Island.
There is a large chart at the exit to the taxi stand showing the approximate fares to most destinations. The law is strict on taxi drivers who must charge according to the meter. According to the Hong Kong Transport Department, the first two kilometres costs $18, then $1.50 for each 200 metres. When the meter fare reaches $70.5, the cost for each 200 metres will change to $1.00 The meter fare does not include the luggage fee, toll fee, waiting fee or pet fee.
Taxis from the airport to downtown Kowloon can suffer from traffic congestion. If you are going to Hong Kong Island, tell the taxi driver to use the "Western Harbour Crossing" to avoid congestion, but this will attract an additional surcharge.
From the airport there are private cars and vans operating illegally as taxis. Do not take these as they are not licensed and in case of accidents, your insurance will not cover you.
Because flying from Hong Kong to the mainland is considered an international flight, flying around mainland China using Shenzhen Airport (IATA: SZX) is often significantly cheaper. Many hotels in Hong Kong offer a shuttle bus from the hotel direct to Shenzhen airport. In the recently completed Elements shopping centre above the Kowloon MTR station on the Tung Chung and the Airport Express line, there is a shop front waiting room where you can check-in and receive your boarding pass (although check in at this location is not available for China Southern Airlines passengers), and then board a bus direct to Shenzhen airport. This in-town check-in is completely separate from the in-town check-in provided for Hong Kong International Airport. Take the escalators up from the AE/MTR station to 1/F of the Elements Mall, turn right, and then it is opposite Starbucks. The bus uses the new western passage immigration facilities where both Hong Kong SAR and Chinese immigration formalities are completed under one roof. The cost of the service is $100 and the bus is advertised to take 75 minutes, but is more like 90 minutes in reality. Buses currently run every half an hour from 6:30 AM to 7 PM at Hong Kong side, and from 10 AM to 9 PM at Shenzhen side.
Because of higher fees at Hong Kong International Airport, it is often cheaper to fly out of Macau International Airport (IATA: MFM) . Air Asia has set up a hub at Macau and flies to destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok among others. Viva Macau flies to Sydney. Macau International Airport is easily reached by ferry from Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Hong Kong International Airport. With the Express Link service, you can even transfer directly from airport to ferry (or vica versa) without going through Macau immigration.
Sky Shuttle operates a helicopter service every 30 minutes from the Terminal Marítimo in Macau to the Shun Tak Heliport (IATA: HHP; ICAO: VHST) at the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Pier in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island. The trip takes 16 minutes and one-way fares cost $2,200, plus $200 on weekends and public holidays.
- By ferry
Hong Kong is only a 1 hour hydrofoil ride away from Macau, and there are good connections to mainland China as well. There are two main companies handling the services, TurboJet and First Ferry. The ferries are comfortable and are a handy way of travelling in the region. The main terminals are:
- Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Pier, 202 Connaught Road (Sheung Wan MTR exit D), Central.
- TurboJet, every 5 to 30 min, 24 hours a day to Macau.
- Cotai Jet , every hour to/from Taipa (Macau) from 0700 to 1700.
- Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal, 33 Canton Road (Tsim Sha Tsui MTR exit A1), Kowloon.
- Chu Kong Passenger Transport, to Zhuhai and various points in Guangdong.
- New World First Ferry , every 30 min to Macau.
- Xunlong to Shekou in Shenzhen.
- Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Pier, 202 Connaught Road (Sheung Wan MTR exit D), Central.
- By ship
The Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui is one of the hubs of Star Cruises. Cruise ships leave from here for various cities in Vietnam, mainland China and Taiwan. There are also long haul services all the way to Singapore via ports in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.
Crossing the border to mainland China puts you in Shenzhen, a well-developed boomtown. Please note that there are special visa regulations if you plan to visit Shenzhen.
There are six land checkpoints between Hong Kong and mainland China, namely Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau Spur Line, Lok Ma Chau, Man Kam To, Sha Tau Ko and Shenzhen Bay. Lo Wu is a train and pedestrian crossing; Lok Ma Chau spur line is a pedestrian crossing; Lok Ma Chau and Sha Tau Kok are road, cross-boundary bus and pedestrian crossings; while Man Kam To and Shenzhen Bay bridge are road and cross-boundary bus crossings.
- Lo Wu: This control point can only be accessed by the MTR East Rail Line and the crossing can only be done on foot (unless you take a through-train from Hung Hom where the train will not stop at all. See "By train" section below). It is often congested with travellers during weekends and holidays, so if you want to avoid for the long queues, please use the other control points on holidays. Visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the Chinese side.Getting there/away: Trains from Tsim Sha Tsui East to Lo Wu run every five to eight minutes. Shenzhen city centre lies just beyond the Chinese immigration checkpoint.
- Lok Ma Chau Spur Line: This crossing can be accessed by the MTR East Rail Line, by bus/minibuses or by taxi, and the crossing can only be done on foot. Using the double-decked Lok Ma Chau-Huanggang pedestrian bridge, passengers will find themselves at the FuTian immigration checkpoint of the PRC. The control point is not popular and thus less crowded than at Lo Wu. Travellers should note that its opening hours is slightly shorter than that of Lo Wu. Getting there/away: While 1 out of 2/3 northbound East Rail Line trains terminates at that station, the control point can also be reached from Yuen Long by KMB bus number B1 or by minibus number 75. On the Shenzhen side, Huanggang metro station is just after the immigration checkpoint.
- Lok Ma Chau: This crossing consists of separate facilities for pedestrians which is accessed by bus and for road vehicles, and is the only border control point which offers 24-hour immigration services. A shuttle service, known as the "Yellow Bus", operates between the Lok Ma Chau Public Transport Interchange located at San Tin and Huanggang Port of the PRC side. Alternatively, travellers can board the express buses from urban areas of Hong Kong which will carry their passengers directly to the control point. For both modes, passengers after passing through Hong Kong Immigration control has to board the same bus at the other side of the control point, which will then carry them to Huanggang port of Shenzhen side, where they need to get off again and pass through PRC immigration control. Getting there/away: The Lok Ma Chau Public Transport Interchange is served by KMB buses 277, N277, 76K, and 276B, and passengers can board the "Yellow Bus" shuttle there. Alternatively, passenger can board the buses to the port at urban areas in Hong Kong (See "By bus" section below). Over in Shenzhen, a large taxi stand and a bus terminus is right outside the control point but its no where near the Huanggang metro station.
- Man Kam To: This crossing is mostly used by private vehicles and cross-boundary buses. See "By bus" section below.
- Sha Tau Kok: Located furthest east, this control point can be accessed by taking the cross-boundary coach. It is quite a distance from the centre of Shenzhen and is relatively quiet. There are no Chinese visa-on-arrival facilities. See "By bus" section below.
- Shenzhen Bay Bridge: This control point links Hong Kong directly with Shekou, Shenzhen. It can be used by private vehicles and cross-boundary buses. See "By bus" section below.
Please note that all the crossings, save for Shenzhen Bay Bridge, are located in the Frontier Closed Area and everyone is required to have a permit to be there unless crossing the border. Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau can be easily reached by train, but if you are just there to look around, be ready for some security questioning. It is also not easy to directly access the train departure area from the arrivals area.
There are some Cross Boundary coaches operating from the business districts in Kowloon or Hong Kong Island to the Chinese side of the checkpoint. If you take these coaches, there is no need to change for the yellow shuttle bus and hence it is a good choice for boundary crossing to avoid the queues.
There are 6 lines of short trip cross boundary coaches serves the port,
- Jordan, Kowloon departs from Scout Centre, Austin Road, Tsim Sha Tsui (5 mins walk from Jordan MTR).
- Mongkok, Kowloon departs from Portland Street, near Metropark Hotel Mongkok (exit from Prince Edward Hotel).
- Wanchai, Hong Kong Island departs from Wanchai Ferry Bus Terminus.
- Kwun Tong, Kowloon departs from Lam Tin MTR, stops at Kwun Tong APM Shopping Plaza and Kwun Tong Rd, Kowloon Bay MTR.
- Tsuen Wan departs from Discovery Park Bus Terminus (10 mins walk from Tsuen Wan MTR).
- Kam Sheng Road departs from Kam Sheung Road West Rail Station.
Except the route to Kam Sheng Road, 24 hour services are provided with half hourly or hourly departure in midnight and around 10-20 mins per bus during the day and evening.
Lok Ma Chau is a around-the-clock border crossing; visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the Chinese side (subject to nationality, at the present, applications from USA passport holders are not accepted).
Man Kam To control point can be accessed by taking the cross-boundary coach on the bus interchange under the shopping centre of West Kowloon Centre, Sham Shui Po (near Sham Shui Po MTR)in Kowloon, which costs $35, the bus calls at Landmark North also, which is just adjacent to Sheung Shui KCR Station, with section fare of $22. It is seldom crowded with travellers even during holiday periods. You can also enjoy the free shuttle service outside the Chinese checkpoint, which takes you to the central area of Shenzhen. However, no visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the Chinese side, which means you need to arrange for your visa in advanced before arrival.
It is the best route to go to the downtown in Shenzhen especially during holidays.
Sha Tau Kok control point can be accessed by taking the cross-boundary coach on the bus interchange at Luen Wo Hui in Fanling and Kowloon Tong. It connects the eastern boundary of Hong Kong and Shenzhen and it is a bit remote from the central part on Shenzhen. As a consequence, only very few passengers choose to cross the boundary using this checkpoint. No visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the Chinese side.
Coaches departs from Kowloon Tong MTR from 7:00 to 18:30 every 15 minutes which costs $20, which is also the cheapest direct coach to Shenzhen.
Shenzhen Bay control point links Hong Kong directly with Shekou, Shenzhen, and can be accessed conveniently by public buses. Route B2 departs from Yuen Long Railway Station via Tin Shui Wai Railway Station to Shenzhen Bay, while B3 departs from Tuen Mun Pier. There is also a express coach service departing from Sham Shui Po to Shenzhen Bay.
Cycling across the border is possible at the four land crossings with Shenzhen, with Lo Wu probably the easiest to deal with. You can also take your bike across on the ferries, but cycling to or from the international airport is difficult to impossible.
Lok Ma Chau
Travellers entering Hong Kong first go through China immigration and then catch a bus to Hong Kong immigration checkpoint. Foot passengers have a choice of using the "yellow bus " to the Hong Kong Side or cross border buses which go eventually to different areas of Hong Kong. Bikes are currently not allowed on the yellow buses and have to be wheeled through China immigration to the bus terminus to buy a ticket the chosen destination. It's helpful to know where you want to go. Sometimes you need to pay for the bike (about $30). You then load the bike onto the bus yourself and have to unload again about 5 minutes later to go through Hong Kong immigration and then put it back on the bus. All passengers have to do this with their luggage. Usually this whole process is frenetic (even for locals) due to the number of people travelling over the border.
A train runs from the border crossing at Lo Wu into the centre of Hong Kong and cycles are allowed on the train (known as the KCR) with the payment of between $20 and $40 depending upon the time of day and with the front wheel removed. As for all border crossings travellers have to pass through the Chinese side and then the Hong Kong side before boarding the train.
Man Kam To and Sha Tau Kok
These two border crossings are usually used by heavy lorries and cars although it is possible to transit with cycles. Sha Tau Kok is used if the onward route is to the east of Guangdong.
MTR Corporation runs regular Intercity Passenger Train services from Hung Hom station on Kowloon side. The destinations are Guangzhou (East), Dongguan, Foshan and Zhaoqing in Guangdong Province, as well as Beijing and Shanghai.
The Octopus card provides instant electronic access to Hong Kong's public transport system. The contactless smart debit card can be tapped onto a reader to transfer fare from the passenger to the carrier. Those who are familiar with Singapore's eZ-Link card, London Underground's Oyster card or Japan Railway's IC cards will quickly understand the concept of the Octopus card. In addition to being used for all forms of public transport (except most of the red-top minibuses and taxis), Octopus is also accepted for payment in almost all convenience stores, restaurant chains like McDonald's and Cafe de Coral, many vending machines, all roadside parking and some car parks. Some housing estates and schools use the card for identification at entry.
When travelling by MTR and some bus routes, payment by Octopus card can sometimes be cheaper than cash because carriers frequently offer discounts to Octopus users (such as the route between the airport and the city). There's really no reason to get one if you are in Hong Kong for a short time, however, if your itinerary includes daily use of ferries, buses, minibuses and the MTR then you will wish you had one.
Basic Octopus cards cost $150, with $100 face value plus $50 refundable deposit. A $7 service charge applies if the card is returned in less than three months for the refundable deposit. The maximum value an Octopus card can carry is $1,000. The Octopus card also allows its remaining value to go negative once before topping up. For example, you may pay for a ride of $5 with a remaining value of $2 on the card (bringing the stored value to -$3) but you cannot use the card again until the value is topped up. The negative value of an Octopus card can go as far as $35. Note that isn't really "negative", meaning you don't have to pay MTR back, since your $50 deposit secures it.
The Central to Mid-Levels escalator, at 800 m long, this is the longest outdoor, covered, escalator system in the world. When travelling downhill on the escalator, there is a machine, where you can touch your Octopus card, and your next MTR journey will have a $2 discount. The escalator runs downhill from 06:00 to 10:00 and uphill from 10:30 to 24:00 every day.
Your Octopus cards' balance is displayed on the reader after each use. The balance can also be checked, along with the last several transactions, using a small machine near regular ticket machines at MTR stations.
For travellers, there are three convenient ways to refill a card:
Add Value machines, usually located next to regular ticket machines in MTR stations. These machines accept cash only.
- Customer service at any MTR station.
- Merchants that accept Octopus (e.g. 7-Eleven, etc.).
Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) underground and overground network is the fastest way to get around the territory, but what you gain in speed you lose in views and (at least for short distances) price. There are ten lines, including the Airport Express, plus a network of modern tram lines operated by the MTR in the North West New Territories. The Kowloon Canton Railway (KCR), including its link to the mainland border at Lo Wu (Shenzhen), was merged into the MTR in 2007 and now operates as a integral part of it.
The most important lines for many visitors are the busy Tsuen Wan Line (red), which tunnels from Central to Kowloon and down Nathan Road towards Tsuen Wan in the New Territories and the Island Line (blue) which runs along the north coast of the Island. The new Tung Chung Line (orange) is the fastest route to Lantau and one of the cheapest ways to the airport when coupled with the S1 shuttle bus stationed at Tung Chung MTR station. The line also provides a link to Hong Kong Disneyland via a change at Sunny Bay station. The East Rail Line (light blue) is handy for heading up to mainland China by rail. All signs are bilingual in Chinese and English and all announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin and English so tourists should not have a problem using the rail system. Should you get lost, staff in the station control room usually speak some English so they would be able to help you out.
Most underground MTR stations have one Hang Seng Bank branch (except for the massive Hong Kong/Central station, which has two). Since they're a common feature, unambiguous and easy to find, they're a good place to tell people to meet you.
Note that in Hong Kong, a subway is an underground walkway, not an underground railway, and signs for "subway" will just lead you to the other side of the street. Look for the MTR logo instead.
Fares depend on distance. Credit cards are not accepted to pay for tickets or passes except for rides on the Airport Express Line.
In addition to the Airport Express Octopus (see above), you can also buy a 24-hour pass for $50 at any MTR station; however, this pass is not valid on the Airport Express line.
Operated by Hong Kong Tramways, the narrow double-decker city trams trundling along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island are a Hong Kong icon and have provided cheap transport for over a century. Trams are slower and bumpier than other modes of transport, and they are not air conditioned. But the route along the length of Hong Kong Island's centre covers many places tourists would want to see. With a flat fare of only $2, it's the cheapest sightseeing tour around. A suggested sightseeing option lasting over an hour is to board at the Kennedy Town Terminus where you can be sure to get a good seat on the upper deck. As the tram traverse eastward, you will have an elevated view of the island and see its different flavours, from bustling Hong Kong street life to its glitzy financial and shopping districts and, finally, a taste of suburban tranquility. Passengers board at the rear and the fare is paid upon alighting at the front of the tram. Exact change and Octopus cards are accepted. Trams run 6:00AM to midnight.
In a league of its own is the Peak Tram , Hong Kong's first mechanised mode of transport, opened back in 1888. The remarkably steep 1.7 km track up from Central to Victoria Peak is worth at least one trip despite the comparatively steep price ($22 one-way, $33 return; return tickets must be purchased in advance).
There are three types of bus available in Hong Kong, operated by a multitude of companies. While generally easy to use (especially with Octopus), signage in English can be sparse and finding your bus stop can get difficult. Buses are pretty much your only option for travelling around the south side of the island and Lantau.
The large double-decker buses cover practically all of the territory, stop frequently and charge varying fares depending on the distance. The first seats of the upper deck offer great views. The franchised bus operators in Hong Kong include Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) (and its subsidary Long Win Bus), Citybus , New World First Bus and New Lantao Bus. Route and fare information can be found on the companies web sites. Fares will depend more on where you board rather than where you get-off which means it is more expensive to board at the earlier stops rather than the later stops.
Van-sized public light buses carry a maximum of 16 passengers (seats only) and come in two varieties, red minibuses and green minibuses (the red buses are also called maxicabs); the colour refers to a wide stripe painted on top of the vehicle. Riding a minibus may not be easy for travellers, as it is customary to call out the name of the stop or ask the driver to stop in Cantonese. Red minibuses do not accept Octopus but will give you change, while green minibuses do accept Octopus payment but can not give you change if you pay in cash. The Hong Kong Island green minibus #1 down from the Peak to Central is particularly exhilarating. Red minibuses tend to have a more Chinese feel than green buses. Prices on red minibuses are often displayed only in Chinese numbers. The price displayed on a red minibus can legally vary according to the market price, so expect to pay more at busy times. Some people argue that the driving standards of red minibuses is lower than green minibuses; Minibus drivers generally drive fast, especially at night. Always use minibus seatbelts where available. You will notice that they all have an extra, large, digital speedometer in the cabin for the passengers to view, this is required by the government after a few fatal accidents due to speeding. Since the introduction of these passenger speedometers mini-bus accident rates have dropped.
Kowloon Canton Railway also maintains its fleet of KCR feeder buses. KCR passengers can enjoy a free feeder service if the payment is made by Octopus. The route K16 is especially useful for tourists who need to go to Tsim Sha Tsui from the New Territories and mainland China by rail.
Note that if paying in cash, the exact fare is required and no change can be given. Paying by Octopus is much more convenient. The exception to this rule is if you use a red minibus, Octopus cards are not accepted on red minibus services, but they do give you change.
Route numbering is independent in six regions: bus on Hong Kong Island/ in Kowloon and in New Territories/ on Lantau Island, green minibus on Hong Kong Island/ in Kowloon/ in New Territories and several exceptional auxiliary buses route (red minibuses does not have a route number). This leads to duplication of routes in different regions. Although the Transport Department of Hong Kong Government has been working on the unifying of the route numbers, it is still a little bit messy at the moment. If you are confused a bit by the numbering of routes, here is a suggestion: just remember the route number of buses in Hong Kong Island/Kowloon/New Territories only whenever it is necessary. In other special circumstances, ask the driver or the station staff for the Lantau buses and green minibuses and they can answer you.
Generally you need not to mention which district the route belongs to when you are asking for directions (almost all people will assume you will asking for the route which runs in the district you are in, e.g. if you ask for bus route #2, locals will assume you will asking for bus route #2 running in Kowloon if you are in Kowloon), but you really need to mention whether the route is bus or minibus when you ask, since in some cases both bus and minibus can have same route number in the same area which are actually different routes. (e.g. there are both bus route #6 and minibus route #6 in Tsim Sha Tsui, which are actually different routes).
A vast fleet of ferries plies between the many islands of Hong Kong. The granddaddy of them all and an attraction in itself is the Star Ferry , whose most popular line travels between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central from early morning until late at night, and offers amazing views (especially when coming from Tsim Sha Tsui). The Star Ferry is an icon of Hong Kong heritage and has carried passengers for over 120 years. Taking its eleven minute ride across the harbour and catching some misty breeze is considered a "must do" when visiting Hong Kong.
Upper deck seats cost $2.40 while the lower deck cost $1.70, both payable with Octopus, cash (change given) or by onsite vending machine. The Star Ferry also operates between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai.
Ferries to Lamma, Lantau and other islands depart from a variety of ports, but the largest and most important terminal is at Central adjacent to the Star Ferry. Ferries are usually divided into fast ferries and slow ferries, with fast ferries charging around twice the price for half the journey time, although not all destinations offer both kinds of service. Example fares for trips from Central to Yung Shue Wan (Lamma) are $10/15 slow/fast, and to Mui Wo (Lantau) $10.50/$21. Note that all fares increase by around 50% on Sundays and public holidays.
Taxis are plentiful, clean and efficient. They were rated as the cheapest of all big cities in the world. Not good news for the drivers, but good for the tourist. Fares in Hong Kong & Kowloon start at $18, and you can ride for 2 km before additional $1.50 per 200m increments start ticking ($1 for fares of $70.50 and above). New fare increases are indicated in writing until the meter is adjusted. Tipping is not expected but nevertheless still welcome, and drivers often round up the fare to the nearest dollar when giving change.
Drivers are required to provide change for $100 notes, but not for higher denominations. If you only have a $500 or $1000 note and are going through a tunnel, let the driver know beforehand and he will change it when paying at the toll booth.
Life is made slightly more difficult by the fact that there are three different flavours of taxi. These can be distinguished by colour: red taxis typically serve the Island and Kowloon, and some parts of the New Territories (for example Shatin), but they are permitted to travel all over Hong Kong except to Lantau Island; green taxis serve the New Territories (only), but with a slightly cheaper fare than red taxis; blue taxis serve Lantau island. All three types of taxis can take you to the airport. When in doubt, just take a red taxi.
In addition, red taxis are based in either the Island or Kowloon, if they do take you across the harbour, they will charge you twice the bridge/tunnel toll so they can get back! But you can use this to your advantage by picking a homebound taxi from a cross-harbour taxi rank in places like the Star Ferry pier or Hung Hom station. In these cross-harbour taxi stands only single toll charge will be applied to the taxi fare.
There are no extra late-night charges. Baggage carried in the boot ("trunk" if coming from north America) will cost you $5 per piece and all tolls are payable. The wearing of seat belts is required by law.
All taxis are radio equipped and can be reserved and requested via an operator for a token fee of $5, payable to the driver. You are unlikely to need to call a taxi, though, as they are plentiful.
It is good practice to get a local person to write the name or address of your destination in Chinese for you to hand to the taxi driver, as many drivers speak limited English and Mandarin. For example, if you wish take a journey back to your hotel, ask a receptionist for the hotel's business card.
Renting a car is almost unheard of in densely populated Hong Kong. With heavy traffic, extremely complex road network and rare parking spaces, renting a car is very unappealing. However, if you must, expect to pay over $600/day even for a small car. Nevertheless, driving habits in Hong Kong are generally much better than in mainland China with drivers generally following traffic rules. Roads are also generally well maintained and directional signs are written in both Chinese and English. Unlike in mainland China, International Driving Permits (IDPs) are also accepted in Hong Kong. Unlike mainland China, traffic in Hong Kong moves on the left (part of Hong Kong's British legacy).
That being said, if you intend to visit the more remote parts of Lantau Island or the New Territories, renting a car may be your best option, as many of these areas are inaccessible by public transport, and taxis in these areas are few and far between.
If you wish to drive to mainland China, note that your vehicle must have a second set of number plates issued by the Guangdong authorities and a separate Chinese license will be required. You will also need to change sides of the road at the border.
Cantonese is the language spoken by 95% of the people in Hong Kong. Due to British colonial influences, colloquial Cantonese in Hong Kong tends to incorporate some English words and slang, which may sound strange to Cantonese speakers from mainland China. Locals always appreciate any attempts to speak Cantonese, especially by Western tourists, so learning some basic Cantonese greetings will go a long way in ingratiating yourself with the locals.
Compared to other East Asian metropolises, English proficiency in Hong Kong is considered quite good, particularly on the island side, in the financial districts and wherever tourists and Western expatriates congregate. Education in English begins in kindergarten and its fluency is often a prerequsite for landing a good job, so you can expect English to be spoken fluently among the business community. However, English proficiency can be limited among non-professionals in districts where there are fewer tourists, such as those in the New Territories. Also, some locals, even if they can understand English well, do not feel comfortable speaking it. Regardless, most Hong Kongers under the age of 40 throughout the SAR are fluent enough in English for basic communication. To ensure that they understand you, it is best to speak in short sentences, and avoid slang or colloquial expressions.
Hong Kong also has several minority communities, such as the Teochews (Chiuchow in Cantonese) and Shanghainese who fled to Hong Kong when the mainland fell to the communists in 1949. Some of them still speak their respective dialects, though most of them are also fluent in Cantonese. There are also non-Chinese resident communities in Hong Kong, largely originating from the Indian subcontinent, and among them, various South Asian languages are spoken, though it should not cause much of a problem as almost all of them are fluent in English and many are fluent in Cantonese as well.
Most locals are not fluent in Mandarin (also known locally as Potonghua) but can comprehend it to a certain degree. However, Mandarin proficiency is improving rapidly, especially after reunification with mainland China and increasing demand from employers. Mandarin is a compulsory subject in government schools, so many people under the age of 30 will be able to speak fairly decent, albeit heavily accented, Mandarin. Due to the increasing number of tourists from mainland China, most (if not all) shops and eateries in the city centre and more touristy areas will have at least one staff member who can speak Mandarin.
All official signs are bilingual, in both Chinese (traditional) and English. However, Chinese-only signs have become more common in recent years, especially at bus stops. Most shops and restaurants also have English signage, though don't expect this from the more local or obscure establishments. Under the "one country, two systems" policy, Hong Kong continues to use traditional Chinese characters, not simplified Chinese characters used in mainland China.
The Hong Kong dollar is the territory's official currency and is the unit of currency used throughout this travel guide. In Chinese, one dollar is known formally as the yuen (元) and colloquially as the men in Cantonese.
The official exchange rate is fixed at 7.80 HKD to 1 USD, although bank rates may fluctuate slightly. When exchanging currency at a big bank, be prepared to pay a small fixed commission, usually about $40 per transaction. If exchanging large amounts, this commission will have a negligible impact on the transaction. If exchanging small amounts, it may be advantageous to exchange at one of many independent exchange shops found in tourist areas. Although their exchange rates compared with big banks are slightly less favourable for you, most do not charge a commission. They may also be more convenient and faster ways to exchange (no queues, located in shopping centres, open 24 hours, etc.). However, be wary of using independent exchangers outside banking hours because, without competition from big banks, their rates may become very uncompetitive.
Many tourists opt to use their ATM debit cards instead of carrying cash or traveller's cheques. Using this method, the exchange rates and fees are comparable to exchanging cash at big banks. However, some smaller banks do not accept ATM cards from overseas customers. The best banks for foreign tourists to use are HSBC, Hang Seng and Standard Chartered. Also, be mindful of withdrawal limits imposed by your bank.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) issues the new purple plastic $10 notes while the rest are issued by three banks (the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, also known as the 'Hong Kong bank', Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of China). The old green paper $10 notes issued by HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank remain legal tender. The style of notes varies a lot between banks though the colour and size are about the same for notes of the same denomination. The larger the denomination, the larger the size of the banknotes. Banknotes come in denominations of:
- $10, green or purple (paper or plastic).
- $20, dark blue or light blue (old or new).
- $50, purple or green (old or new).
- $100, red.
- $500, brown.
- $1000, gold.
Some shops do not accept $1000 notes due to counterfeiting concerns.
The coins come in units of
- $10, in bronze/silver, circular.
- $5, in silver, circular, thicker.
- $2, in silver, wavey-circular.
- $1, in silver, circular, thinner.
- 50¢, in bronze, circular, larger.
- 20¢, in bronze, wavey-circular.
- 10¢, in bronze, circular, smaller.
Since September 1997, the use of the small coins and change has been reduced due to the innovation of the Octopus card. Originally used just for fare payment for the MTR and buses, it now is used all over the city, for purchases in any amount at convenience stores, fast food restaurants, pharmacies, vending machines, etc.
Automated Teller Machines (ATM's) are common in urban areas. They usually accept VISA, MasterCard, and to certain degree UnionPay. Maestro and Cirrus cards are widely accepted also. They dispense $100, $500 or rarely $1000 notes depending on the request. Credit card use is common in most shops for major purchases. Most retailers accept VISA and MasterCard, and some accept American Express as well. Maestro debit cards however are not widely accepted by retailers. Signs with the logo of different credit cards are usually displayed at the door to indicate which cards are accepted. For small purchases, in places such as McDonalds or 7-Eleven, cash or Octopus Card is the norm.
Hong Kong is relatively expensive by Asian standards, though still somewhat cheaper than Japan. A traveller on a bare bones budget can probably get by with about $300 for a day, but you'll want to double, or even triple that for comfort. The cheapest food available will cost you in the region of $20 for a serving, though in the most expensive restaurants, bills in exess of $1000 is not unheard of.
When tipping, tourists can make fools of themselves because tipping is not a local tradition. In cheaper restaurants, you should certainly take all your change, not to do so may be seen as patronising. In more upmarket places a ten percent service charge will have already been included in your bill, so restaurants will accept that as the tip. Tipping is also not expected in taxis, and drivers usually return all your change.
Hong Kong is still known as an excellent destination for shopping, especially for goods from the mainland. Shopping in Hong Kong is just as good as, if not better than other well known shopping cities, such as London, Singapore and Tokyo. Prices can be cheaper than Europe, North America, or Japan, especially since Hong Kong has no sales tax (VAT). Although Hong Kong prices are still expensive by regional standards, the choice and variety is a lot better than in most south-east Asian countries. Popular shopping items include consumer electronics, custom clothing, shoes, jewellery, expensive brand name goods, Chinese antiques, toys and Chinese herbs/medicine. There's also a wide choice of Japanese, Korean and European clothing and cosmetics, but prices can be high.
As a generalisation, Hong Kong Island and nearby Tsim Sha Tsui have the upmarket shopping malls (particularly near Central and Causeway Bay), while Kowloon is the place to go for cheap open markets. Causeway Bay is home to Hong Kong's youth fashion scene, and is a good place to look for the newest fashion trends. Kowloon's Nathan Road has many shops selling electronics, cameras and gadgets, mainly to tourists (not locals!). Beware that some of the business practices there can be quite deceptive - see the section Tourist traps below.
Most shops in Hong Kong's urban areas open at about 10AM and stay open until midnight, even on weekends. However, there is no hard and fast rule and shops will typically stay open as long as there are customers, which makes Hong Kong a late night shopping paradise.
For cheaper goods, some Hong Kong residents shop in Shenzhen just across the border into China.
Antiques- Head for Hollywood Road in Central. Here you will find a long street of shops with a wide selection of products that look like antiques. Some items are very good fakes, so you should only buy things that you like and always try and bargain on the price.
Books- Swindon Books is one of the oldest English language bookstores in Hong Kong. Its main branch is on Lock Road in Tsim Sha Tsui but it also has affiliated branches in malls around Hong Kong. Page One is a chain-bookstore with branches in Central, Festival Walk (Kowloon Tong) and Times Square (Causeway Bay) offering a wide range of English language and Chinese books, and an extensive selection of travel guides. Dymocks is an Australian chain and has stores in the IFC, The Princes Building, and other locations. The Commercial Press has bookstores in many shopping malls. It has more Chinese titles than English ones but its prices tend to be a bit more reasonable than many other booksellers that specialise in English titles. The Commercial Press has a large store in Miramar Shopping Centre that has a decent collection of English titles.
Cameras- As a tourist you should avoid camera shops in tourist areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui. Instead, seek out one of the larger electronics shops along Sai Yeung Choi South Street in Mong Kok or the Wan Chai Computer centre.
Chinese Art- Try Star House near the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui for more expensive items, otherwise buy from the street markets in Mong Kok.
Computers- The Wanchai Computer Centre is located above Wanchai MTR station and is worth a look for anybody seeking computers and computer accessories. Prices are reasonable and you may find a bargain. Don't be afraid to ask the seller to demonstrate to you that the product is in good working order.
Computer Games and Gaming Hardware- If you are interested in buying a new Playstation, Nindendo DS and the like, the Orient Shopping Center, 188 Wan Chai Road, is the place to go. Here you will definitely find a real bargain. Prices can be up to 50% cheaper then in your home country. Be careful to compare prices firstly. The back corners in the upper levels usually offer the best prices. You might even be lucky and find English speaking staff here. However, be careful to make sure that the region code of the hardware is compatible with your home country's region code or buy region code free hardware (like the Nintendo DS lite).
Consumer Electronics- There are many small shops selling electronic goods but as a tourist you are advised to avoid such vendors unless you have the help and support of a local person. Major shops such as Broadway, Fortress or Chung Yuen are more reliable but may not provide you with the sort of of guarantee and after sales service as you would get in your home country (if you spend a lot of time on the mainland Gome provides warranty service there for most electronics). Do not assume that electrical goods are cheaper in Hong Kong, in some instances prices can be up to five times more than in Europe or North America.
Music and Film- HMV is a tourist-friendly store that sells a wide range of expensive products. For real bargains you should find your way into the smaller shopping centres where you will find small independent retailers selling CDs and DVDs at very good prices. Some shops sell good quality second hand products. Try the Oriental Shopping Centre on Wanchai Road for a range of shops and a taste of shopping in a more down-market shopping centre. Alternatively, brave the warren of CD and DVD shops inside the Sino Centre on Nathan Road between Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei MTR stations.
Sports Goods - A good place to buy sportswear is close to Mong Kok MTR station. Try Fa Yuen Street and the roads around it for a wide range of shops selling sports wear (especially sports' shoes) - you could be spoilt for choice.
Tea- Buying good chinese tea is like choosing a fine wine and there are many tea retailers that cater for the connoisseur who is prepared to pay high prices for some of China's best brews. To sample and learn about Chinese tea you might like to find the Tea Museum which is in Hong Kong Park in Central. Marks & Spencer caters for homesick Brits by supplying traditional strong English tea bags at a reasonable price.
Watches and jewellery - Hong Kong people are avid watch buyers - how else can you show your wealth if you can't own a car and your home is hidden at the top of a tower-block? You will find a wide range of jewellery and watches for sale in all major shopping areas. If you are targeting elegant looking jewellery or watches try Chow Tai Fook, which can be expensive. Prices vary and you should always shop around and try and bargain on prices. When you are in Tsim Sha Tsui you will probably be offered a "copy watch" for sale.
Shopping Malls — Hong Kong has a vast number of shopping malls. While some people might prefer a certain building, the shops are similar, so just head to the mall closest to where you are staying.
- IFC Mall - Located near the Star Ferry and Outlying Islands Ferry Piers. Has many luxury brand shops, an expensive cinema and superb views across the harbour from the rooftop.
- Pacific Place - Also a big shopping centre. Take the MTR to Admiralty.
- Festival Walk - A big shopping centre with a mix of expensive brands and smaller chains. There is also an ice skating rink there. Take the MTR or KCR East Rail to Kowloon Tong.
- Cityplaza - A similarly large shopping centre, also with an ice-skating rink. To get there, take the MTR to Taikoo on the Island Line.
- Landmark- Many the luxury brands have shops here Gucci, Dior, Fendi, Vuitton, etc. Central, Pedder Street. It used to be a magnet for the well-heeled but has since fallen behind in its management.
- APM - All new 24hr Shopping centre in Kwun Tong. Take the MTR to the Kwun Tong station.
- Harbour City Huge Shopping centre in Tsim Sha Tsui on Canton Road, to get there take the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui, or take the Star Ferry.
- Langham Place - A huge 12 storey shopping mall adjacent to the the Langham Place Hotel in Mong Kok. Take the MTR to the Mong Kong station and follow the appropriate exit directions.
- Elements - Located next to Kowloon Station. Just like the IFC Mall, there are many luxury brand shops, a cinema and an ice rink. The International Commerce Centre, the highest commercial building in Hong Kong starting from 2009, is right on top of this shopping mall.
- Times Square - A trendy but not stylish multi storey Shopping Mall with food courts at the lower levels, and Gourmet Dining at the upper stories. Take MTR to Causeway Bay, and exit at "Times Square". Crowded on weekends. A popular meeting point for teenagers.
- Citygate Outlet - Located right next to Tung Chung MTR Station, the Citygate is a rare outlet mall with tonnes of mid-priced brands, some of them being Adidas, Esprit, Giordano, Levi's, Nike, Quiksilver and Timberland.
- Golden Computer Arcade- Located in Sham Shui Po, this shopping centre is specialized in selling computer and TV gaming related products. Take the MTR to the Sham Shui Po station. Other computer malls with better environment would be Star City in Tsim Sha Tsui just right on top of the McDonald's as you get out of Star Ferry; Windsor House Computer City in Causeway Bay; Wan Chai Computer mall right outside Wan Chai MTR Station; and Mong Kok Computer Centre on Nelson Street 2 minutes from Mong Kok MTR Station Exit E2.
- DFS (Duty Free Shopping)- Located in Tsim Sha Tsui (across from Harbour City Shopping Mall) and in Tsim Sha Tsui East. As Hong Kong is a tax-free city, you can find DFS in Hong Kong itself not just in airports. A fantastic way to find luxury items and buy them without the burden of sales tax.
- Laforet, Island Beverly and Causeway Place. Best places to find cheap stylish clothes, Asian style. Mostly girls clothes, but also bags, shoes and accessories, highly recommended if you are looking for something different. These three shopping malls are all located near exit E, Causeway Bay MTR station.
Hong Kong has a lot of street markets. Some of them just selling regular groceries, others clothes, bags or even electronics.
- Ladies Market- Gents, don't think that it only sells ladies' goods of the market name. Find fake brand label goods here, or illegal imports. Other goods include clothes, toys etc. Make sure to bargain here! Located in Mong Kok and accessible by MTR or bus.
- Flower Market - Prince Edward. Follow your nose to the sweet scents of a hundred different varieties of flowers.
- Goldfish Market- A whole street full of shops selling small fish in plastic bags and accessories Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok.
- Bird Market- MTR Station Prince Edward, exit "Mong Kok Police Station". Walk down Prince Edward Road West until you reach Yuen Po Street Bird Garden.
- Jade Market- Stalls of the beautiful jade green jewels.
- Temple Street - Situated in the middle of Kowloon, this is a place that sells anything and everything. Hong Kong is a really safe city, but this is probably one of the only places you might want to be more careful with your handbags.
- Seafood Street- Sai Kung. Grab tonight's dinner here where the seafood is always fresh.
- Apliu Street- MTR Station Shum Shui Po, this is the place where you can find cheap computer goods, peripherals and accessories. However this would be the worst place to buy your mobile phones, as they tend to be even more dodgy than small stores in Mongkok.
- Stanley Market- One of the more touristy places, this market sells everything from luxury luggage items to cheap brand name clothes (usually overruns from factories). Accessible with number 40 minibus from Causeway Bay. Also, no.6 and 6A bus from Central.
- Textiles - Sham Shui Po MTR exit. Several square blocks around Nam Cheong St. (between Cheung Sha Wan Rd. and Lai Chi Kok Rd.) hold dozens and dozens of wholesalers to the textile trade. Although they are looking for big factory contracts, most shops are friendly and will sell you "sample-size" quantities of cloth, leather, haberdashery, tools, machinery and anything else you can think of to feed your creative impulses. Ki Lung St. has an outdoor street market selling smaller quantities of factory surplus cloth and supplies at astoundingly low prices. Haggling not necessary.
Discounts and haggling
Many stores in Hong Kong (even some chain stores) are willing to negotiate on price, particularly for goods such as consumer electronics. Always feel free to ask "is there any discount?" and "do I get any free gift?" when buying anything in the territory. You can often get an additional discount if you pay cash (since the store can avoid paying the credit card charges).
Just as in any city, there are certain areas with tourist traps. They are often nameless stores that sell electronics such as digital cameras, mobile phones, and computers. These shops can easily be identified with usage of attention-grabbing neon signs of electronics brand names, numerous employees in a very small store space, and often several of these stores in a row. There are many of these stores on Nathan Road, Kowloon and in Causeway Bay. The selling price in these places is often overpriced, so make sure you compare prices before you buy.
One common trick to be aware of, is for the store owner to offer a low price on a particular item, take a deposit or full payment from you and then "discover" that he doesn't have any stock, offering to substitute another (always inferior) item instead. Be sure that you see the actual stock that you will buy before parting with any money.
Another common trick is to give you a great price on a camera you have obviously priced in many shops, take your credit card number and then before handing over the camera point out that it isn't as good as another camera and that you should buy this other camera, always at an increased cost. The camera they are showing you will in fact be a much cheaper one. This happens in Victory company in TST and the shops nearby are in on the act and will tell you the second camera is worth much more so you will buy it. If buying a camera either beat them at this trick by sticking to the one you want or buy in Wan Chai at the Computer centre where they are more reasonable and you can get a bargain if you haggle with them.
If you are unsure of the prices that you have been given by a shop, you can use ShopCite to check for the latest prices of electronic goods sold by large chain-stores and reputable shops in Hong Kong for price comparison. Since you can use ShopCite on your mobile, you can use it anytime and anywhere to avoid the tourist traps.Hong Kong: